[Ppnews] Starving in Solitary: California Prison Hunger Strikers Health Declines
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 14 10:22:38 EDT 2011
Starving in Solitary: California Prison Hunger
Strikers Health Declines, But State Will Not Negotiate
July 14, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Its been two weeks since a group of inmates in
Pelican Bay State Prisons Security Housing Unit
stopped eating. Their hunger strike was launched
in solitary confinement in Californias oldest
and largest supermax, where they spend at least
22 1/2 hours a day locked down in their cells,
and the remaining time alone in concrete exercise
yards. Many have been in the SHU for years or
even decades, with little hope of ever leaving it
alivean extreme situation that, to their minds, called for extreme measures.
Since the strike began, it has spread to 13 of
the states 33 prisons, whereaccording to the
California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitations own figuressome 6,600 have
refused at least some meals. But the heart of the
protest remains in the SHUs at Corcoran State
Prison and at Pelican Bay, where a core group of
several dozen men say they are committed to
taking this all the way to the death, if
necessary, according to strike organizer Todd Ashker.
Information from this prison-within-a-prison is
by nature difficult to come by and impossible to
verify, but news of the strikers trickles out
through family members and supporters. Today, the
Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition reports that
it received an urgent update from medical staff
at Pelican Bay. According to the coalition, a
source with access to the current medical
conditions who prefers to be unnamed said: The
prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ
damaging consequences of dehydration. They are
not drinking water and have decompensated
rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so
sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are
in renal failure and have been unable to make
urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood
sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not
treated. Family members who visited SHU
prisoners over the weekend
reported that they are visibly thinner, sicker, and weaker.
How long does it take for a man on hunger strike
to starve to death? The answer depends on what
kind of physical shape that man was in to begin
withbut in any case, it doesnt take long. The
body begins feeding on itself after just 24 hours
without food. It usually begins to show severe
symptoms of starvation, including organ failure,
about five weeks. Without fluids, death comes
much sooner, typically in
than two weeks. In 1981, it took the ten Irish
Republican hunger strikers (who were drinking
water) from <http://www.irishhungerstrike.com/>46
to 73 days to die in Britains Maze Prison outside Belfast.
Will it come to this is California? Based on the
response so far from the state of California, it appears that it could.
The hunger strikers list of
core demands is far from radical. In large
part, it is based on the recommendations of the
bipartisan U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in
Prisons, which in 2006 called for substantial
reforms to the practice of solitary confinement.
Segregation from the general prison population,
the commission said, should be a last resort,
and even in segregation units, isolation should
be mitigated and terms should be limited. Beyond
this, the strikers want an end to group
punishments, and to the system of gang
validation and debriefing by which prisoners
are held in the SHU indefinitely, and released
only when they snitch on others. And they want
provision of adequate food and constructive
programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.
Supporters say that the demands are negotiable,
and the strikers have communicated that they
would welcome outside mediators. But the
California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation is not going to be coerced or
manipulated, spokesperson Terry Thornton told
York Times, explaining the CDCRs steadfast
position against negotiating with the hunger strikers.
The responses thus far from the CDCR have been
uniformly hostile and sometimes dismissive.
Thornton told a
public radio reporter that prisoners might be
clandestinely eating. Some inmates have been
seen eating food items that theyve purchased
from the canteen, she claimed. Some have not.
Some inmates are refusing to be weighed. That may
be an indication that they are eating. Its
really hard to say because theyre refusing that medical evaluation.
California prisons are being monitored by the
federal government, in response conditions so
poor as to be intolerable with the concept of
human dignity, according to a recent landmark
decision by the Supreme Court. But the
court-appointed federal receiver in charge of
prison health care, likewise dismissed reports
that some prisoners health problems were growing
dire. I think the information thats in the news
release is largely exaggerated, Nancy Kincaid
the radio station. At this time we have no
inmates who are refusing liquids and we have no
report of inmates who are refusing medication.
There are inmates who are refusing medical care.
They have the right to do that.
Thornton has also told the
that the prisoners should make their demands
heard through other means. There are appropriate
ways of registering your concerns, she said,
and even though this hunger strike has been
peaceful, this is not the way to register those
concerns. But prisoners say they have pursued
these other means, and found them futile. The
basis for this protest has come about after over
25 years, some of us 30, some up to 40 years, of
being subjected to these conditions,
Ashker said in a statement released by lawyers.
Of our 602 appeals, numerous court challenges have gotten nowhere.
In addition, some of the prisoners have been in
the SHU long enough to remember the
strike that took place exactly 10 years ago, when
600 Pelican Bay prisoners stopped eating for 10
days, and the CDCR agreed to reviews its policies
on gang validation and debriefing. A decade
later, inmates say, virtually nothing has changed.
They are protesting conditions that they say are
torturous and inhumane, Molly Porzig of the
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition told
the Chronicle. They feel the Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation will not make any
meaningful or long-term change until they start
dying, and theyre willing to take it there.
Asked to comment on the strike, David Fathi,
director of the ACLU National Prison Project,
said: Its testimony to the suffering caused by
solitary confinement that some prisoners are
apparently willing to starve themselves to death
rather than continue to live under those conditions.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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